Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald claims he meets with whistleblowers at every federal hospital he visits, but there won’t be any such meetings during an upcoming appearance at a VA facility that has repeatedly and severely retaliated against employees that blow the whistle.
“I meet privately with the whistleblowers and the union leaders when I go to every site,” McDonald told Congress six months ago. “We have to get the light shined on these things.”
McDonald has refused a meeting with a whistleblower during an upcoming trip to the VA’s Puerto Rico hospital, which has seen its fair share of problems, including staff leaving elderly vets lying on the ground in their own feces, and where numerous whistleblowers have been retaliated against for exposing corruption.
Instead, McDonald will likely receive a tour guided by the hospital’s director, DeWayne Hamlin, who is frequently absent from the hospital and was arrested in Florida in 2014 carrying painkillers for which he had no prescription.
Joseph Colon, a Puerto Rico VA employee with a track record of exposing misconduct that has been confirmed by third parties, and who has testified before the Senate as a whistleblower, wrote to McDonald requesting a meeting during his visit, but he was brushed off.
“Unfortunately, due to limited time, the Secretary will be unable to hold individual meetings during his visit,” McDonald’s office responded to Colon’s request.
Making the meeting seemed to be a low priority, because the department said it wasn’t sure what McDonald would be doing instead. “His schedule for his upcoming trip to Puerto Rico has not been finalized,” spokesman James Hutton told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Puerto Rico hospital’s management tried to fire Colon after he called attention to Hamlin’s Florida arrest. A mid-level employee, Rosayma Lopez, was assigned to write a report justifying Colon’s firing, but she was threatened with firing when she concluded Colon had done nothing to warrant discipline. Soon after, officials issued a notice of proposed firing to Lopez, and also put Colon on leave.
The Office of Special Counsel, a federal entity in charge of policing whistleblower retaliation, subsequently sided with Lopez and Colon, and ordered them reinstated. Both declined financial settlement offers from VA that required them to resign.
Colon told McDonald in his request for a meeting that Hamlin has resisted restoring him to his old job despite being ordered to do so by OSC.
Tito Santiago Martinez, a management-side labor relations employee at the hospital, is a convicted sex offender, and the VA employees union has used Martinez and Hamlin’s arrests as leverage to ensure that other employees convicted of crimes evaded discipline.
Japhet Rivera, a former high-level employee at the Puerto Rico facility, also claimed Hamlin personally retaliated against him after he told authorities Hamlin had used federal funds for personal benefits.
VA spokesman Hutton would not tell TheDCNF on how many of McDonald’s recent hospital visits he’s actually met with whistleblowers, pursuant to his promise to Congress.
“As was the case at Hines, when we ask the VA to investigate whistleblower complaints, they fly in from Washington to meet with those responsible for the cover-up instead of the employees who are risking their jobs to protect vets,” Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said in a statement, referring to a severely troubled hospital in Illinois where whistleblowers tried in vain to call attention to problems.
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